- Michael C. Wright, ESPN Staff Writer
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Marc Trestman's ability to think organically no doubt raised him above some of the other candidates during general manager Phil Emery's search prior to last season for a new coach to lead the Chicago Bears.
Trestman now seems to be taking things a step further, based on this article written by Peter King of The Monday Morning Quarterback, and might be on track to show that a proper culture in the locker room could translate into victories on the football field.
According to King, Trestman and quarterback Jay Cutler hopped a flight to New York to meet with Dov Seidman, an author who writes and speaks about values-based leadership, to toss around ideas about how to foster a more ethical culture in the locker room. What's interesting is Trestman made the eradication of hazing one of his first directives after taking the job as head coach of the Bears, and some of the players believed that move last season fostered a better work environment.
Obviously, locker room culture became a hot issue around the league last season when the Miami Dolphins suspended Richie Incognito, stemming from allegations of harassment from offensive tackle Jonathan Martin, who left the team and checked himself into a hospital to treat emotional distress. According to King, Seidman addressed team officials at the NFL's annual meeting in March, and is currently in the midst of conducting one-hour meetings with all 32 teams this month to talk about culture change in locker rooms.
“I've been in places where there's been hazing, and I've been in places where there has not been hazing,” Trestman said last November. “I told the team the first night: ‘When you haze somebody, you take their ability to help you win. Everybody's here to help you win.' We're not talking about taking a helmet and walking off the field with a helmet. We're talking about other things. The words you use, the way you act, the things you say affect people from all different backgrounds and places. We've got to understand that the beauty of this game is it draws people from everywhere, from different realities and different perceptions. But that can all be neutralized through respect and using the proper language and proper words in the right place and the right time, in this building, on the field, and when we're out in the community because we represent the entire city.”
It's clear Trestman wants to further improve upon some of the cultural changes he made upon becoming the team's head coach, and bringing along Cutler, who has never been perceived from the outside as a leader in the locker room, could go a long way toward that.
Trestman told King: “I got a tremendous start in the way a locker room was run when I coached for five years in Canada. In our locker room, everyone should feel safe. For some of the guys in Chicago, it was kind of new to them. There'd be no hazing. Lovie Smith had a great group of players, a great group, and he did a great job with them. There were some subtle things I wanted to add. I wanted to keep growing.”
Trestman declined to get into specifics about his conversation, telling King he simply “wanted to find out what else we could do to keep growing.”
“Here, it's different. We look at rookies differently,” Marshall said. “You have to earn your stripes, earn your place on the team, earn your place in the NFL. But as far as crossing that line -- disrespecting guys, demeaning guys -- that just doesn't happen here. Actually, Coach Trestman did a great job of really going out of his way to make everyone feel comfortable from day one. There were some things where we were like, ‘Man, this stuff goes on in every locker room. We would love to continue to do it.' But Coach just said, ‘Hey, we're going to nip that in the bud. I want guys to focus on football, and everyone just focus on their jobs and not Rookie Night or what guys might do to me the next day [in terms of hazing].'”
Long said that Trestman made it “very clear from the beginning” that there would be no hazing in the locker room.
“I feel that's very conducive to a healthy workplace,” Long said. “We really appreciate that about Coach, where nobody is put ahead of anybody else. But at the same time, for you to think that we don't understand that we are rookies, you'd be mistaken.”
Through a coaching career spanning nearly three decades -- ranging from stints at colleges, a head-coaching job in the Canadian Football League and several other stints around the NFL -- Trestman said he's “seen the incidents” of hazing, and in Chicago he wanted to “build on the concept of respect and the growth of respect.”
“We're not going to spend time having players worry about things that can't help us win and are going to be disrespectful,” Trestman said last November. “I can't speak for anyone in the National Football League on that. I'm not going to stand up here after seven weeks on the job and start speaking for the league. Our whole foundation's built on respect for everyone in the organization, respect for the players, respect for the game, honoring the game. We've talked about it a lot.”
Apparently, Trestman's way isn't the norm around the NFL, which is part of the reason the league enlisted Seidman as a consultant. Seidman is the CEO of the LRN Corporation, which works with businesses to stress principled performance. Seidman believes culture change in NFL locker rooms won't take place overnight.
Trestman seems to be way ahead of the curve in that area.